It’s been 251 days since the last time the Avalanche played at T-Mobile Arena. On that night, the Avs lost their fourth straight game to the Vegas Golden Knights and were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the second round for the third straight season.
But much has changed since. And the Avs, led by goalie Darcy Kuemper’s 29 saves and his second consecutive shutout, who wasn’t around last year, defeated the Golden Knights 2-0 and spoiled the debut of superstar Jack Eichel, who was acquired more than three months ago from the Buffalo Sabres.
Kuemper improved to a .921 save percentage following his second shutout in four days.
“He just looked calm and collected in the net,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “He looked like he was seeing everything.”
Kuemper’s calmness was the difference-maker. He made a number of exceptional stops, including a breakaway on Evgenii Dadonov in the third period to improve to 15-0-2 since returning from an injury on Dec. 8. His 17 consecutive decisions without a regulation loss is a new Avalanche record.
The game was even for most of the night. Kuemper and Vegas goalie Laurent Brossoit battled through 40 minutes without surrendering a goal before captain Gabriel Landeskog wired a one-timer past Brossoit from the circle to give the Avs a lead just 41 seconds into the third. Colorado added another with 4:15 remaining in the third period. Superstar center Nathan MacKinnon set up Mikko Rantanen for a wide-open shot on the power play.
The captain’s ninth goal in 10 games stood as the game-winner, his fifth of the season.
“We were just sticking with it,” Rantanen said of the tight game for two periods. “The big key for us is defense first. We know we could score, but we needed to take care of our end first.”
The shutout was the fifth of the season for the Avalanche — all of which have come in the past 14 games — and the third from Kuemper. His first two came against the lowly Arizona Coyotes in January before shutting out the Dallas Stars on Sunday. The Golden Knights have been shut out in consecutive contests, falling 6-0 to the Calgary Flames last week.
The Avalanche have not been blanked this season and needed 34 games to achieve their first shutout.
Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif